“What’s your goal, George?” a NeuroMotion physiotherapist asks my father right off the top of his first session at the Surrey-based clinic.
Using his right hand — the only one he has use of — he taps the arm of his wheelchair.
“To get out of this thing,” he replies without skipping a beat, a cheeky grin and a sparkle returning to his eyes that I haven’t seen in years — not since the strokes that landed him in that chair in the first place.
Here, in this clinic in the City Centre 1 building across from Surrey Memorial Hospital, I have met others with brain injuries like my father’s. The clinic treats people with neurological impairments, using neuroscientific principles and state-of-the-art equipment to retrain movement.
In this newspaper, I’ve told their stories of determination, of overcoming brain injuries, of re-training one’s body to work again and proving just how much the human spirit is capable of.
First, I met Michael Coss inside the very same clinic in 2017, who learned to walk again with a cane after being wheelchair-bound for seven years following a tragic car accident that almost took his life.
Not only does Coss walk today, but he’s done a one-kilometre Terry Fox Run, the Vancouver Sun Run and even the Sheraton Climb the Wall event, which involves climbing more than 700 stairs.
Then, during Brain Awareness Week in March, I met retired Army Reserve captain Trevor Greene, aka the Iron Soldier, who was hit in the head with an axe in Afghanistan. Today, he does therapy at the NeuroMotion clinic, pushing boundaries and teaching the world new things about the ability of the brain to rewire itself.
It was those stories that helped me get my dad inside the building, but on this day, it was my father’s spirit that blew me away.
It’s been five years since tragedy struck our family.
Five years since my father suffered TIAs while alone in his home. Called transient ischemic attacks, TIAs mimic the symptoms of a stroke but don’t tend to leave permanent damage to the brain. They are a warning sign a serious stroke may be on its way.
I checked on dad that day, and he answered the door in a daze, but claimed to be sick so I didn’t think much of it.
That is, until I returned a few days later and was forced to break into his home and found him awake but unable to speak. Unable to move or respond in any way.
I’ll never forget that moment, but most surreal of all was sitting in the hospital when a neurosurgeon sat me down and told me to prepare myself for the worst.
He was preparing me for the very realistic possibility of my father’s death.
I’ll never forget how close my brother clutched me at that moment. My head fell as I began to sob in his arms. The doctor went on to say there was a blood clot in my father’s brain. We didn’t yet know how large it was, but it was in a troubling spot near the entrance to the brain. A spot where, if it burst, Dad could die.
|George Reid in Surrey Memorial Hospital after his strokes, with his dog Sammy. (Photo: Amy Reid)|
The doctor then explained that because we didn’t know how long ago the stroke had hit, some medical measures were no longer available to us.
By some miracle, my father survived. But he suffered further strokes in hospital. It was a never-ending cycle: Two steps forward and five steps back.
For weeks, I sat by my father’s hospital bed and watched as he learned to hold a toothbrush again. Learned to feed himself. For a long time, he couldn’t do either. He would just stare at them. Even with verbal prompting, he couldn’t pick up a comb, let alone run it through his hair.
I held back tears as he called me by my mother’s name, called my daughter by mine. Or, even worse, he couldn’t remember our names at all.
In those darkest moments, there were times I thought death might have been a kinder fate. An optimist at my core, this ordeal shook that trait more than anything ever has.
I have fond memories sitting in my backyard with my children sitting on his lap, just one summer before the strokes, them laughing hysterically while he told them a joke.
I remember him cooking eggs for my son in the morning when he would visit. I remember my son yelling, “Big Bubba!” and jumping up on him every time he walked through my front door.
The contrast between who he was before and after his strokes, even today while writing this column, brings me to tears. I still carry guilt about not finding him sooner. I often think about how different his life might be today.
But along the way, we’ve both learned to celebrate the little victories. Eventually, he could brush his hair. He could put a shirt on by himself. He could put on deodorant.
Today, he can hold conversations very well. He can do many more things on his own, but still requires a full-time caregiver, and has a wonderful woman named Elizabeth taking care of him in a suite in Bridgeview.
|George Reid smiles at Surrey's Neuromotion clinic ahead of his first appointment in March. (Photo: Amy Reid)|
But he’s quite isolated, still unable to walk, unable to use a washroom on his own, and is on many medications that leave him tired and exhausted.
I’ve been trying to get him into Pauline Martin’s NeuroMotion clinic since I saw firsthand the life-changing work she’s done with others who have suffered brain injuries.
It’s not always easy to motivate someone with a brain injury. Strokes take something from you.
But this NeuroMotion clinic has helped so many others in far worse situations than my dad. Something kept pushing me to nag him, and nag him, and nag some more. Finally, he agreed.
I have trouble putting into words how appreciative I am that my line of work exposed me to the clinic in the first place, because this visit was the first bright light I’ve seen in my dad in longer than I care to admit. I heard a laugh I haven’t heard in five years. I saw a sparkle in his eye that I’d almost forget existed — even when the session got tough today. I saw motivation in him that I’ve been dying to see for so long. It’s been a long, trying road and it’s crazy to think it’s already been five years.
But if this is how far we’ve come in five years without the help of amazing specialists at NeuroMotion, I am undoubtedly optimistic about what the next five years will hold.
For those who have family members who suffer brain injuries, just know anything is possible if you believe. They say it takes a village to raise a child and I think it takes a village to recover from something of this magnitude, as well.
NeuroMotion and the team there is truly the first time I’ve felt my dad finally has a village. The one that he needs to push him, to motivate him, and to keep that spark alive inside of him.
It’s the first step down a new road (pun intended — that one’s for you, dad).
Amazingly, he’s taken his first steps since the stroke in the few weeks that he’s been at NeuroMotion.
My jaw dropped and my eyes filled with tears on Wednesday as I learned he had walked across the room, with support from the physiotherapists.
They push him - hard - and it’s exactly what he needs both physically and mentally.
Will my father walk on his own again?
I’ll have to quote renowned neuroscientist Dr. Ryan D’Arcy, who told Trevor Greene this same thing in the same building just a few weeks before: “We don’t know. But we’re not going to say no.”